Friday, October 30, 2009


Shutter the windows tightly and bolt the heavy door. Wrap your shawl snug round you and watch the skies with a sharpened eye.
It is time for the danse macabre. The spirits are out on the wing.
Loosed for one night only, they shall flit through the dark like bats - green eyes aglow in the orange of the maple trees, waxy fingers tap-tapping upon the wavy glass.
Eyes wide open tonight my friends.
Circling round the cold stone chimney, or slipping beneath the wooden door - perhaps wafting through the keyhole like a icy vapour - they are searching, searching for a way inside. Hoping to hide in the wardrobe or under the innocent bed, longing to lie in wait for that one perfect moment at midnight, to appear in the mirror, just behind your left shoulder, silently smiling in the shadowy corner, close enough to touch. You may feel them brush past you in the quiet of the hallway as you make your way off to your bed - a faint cold laugh, a chilled breath on the back of your neck.
Hurry. Set your gargoyles at their posts - that happy bastion of grinning pumpkins, warm candlelight, and bowls of candy corn.
Don the ruby slippers and bring the dogs inside.
Open your door only to the little ones, those tiny ghosts and princesses, wee ghouls and little monsters, bravely out navigating the foggy streets tonight. For they know the secret already. The one that adults so often forget.....
Laughter is the only defense on this dark night of nights. So arm yourselves well, with plenty of giggles, plenty of smiles, and a light and happy heart.
And the best of luck to everyone!!
Edward and I wish you all a Happy Halloween!

Painting by Charles Altamont Doyle

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Upon Stars

All through the dusty, deckle-cut pages of time, the stars have fascinated those who wander over the earth. Man stares at them in wonderment, pondering his own insignificance. Stars light the great stag’s pathway, are reflected in the eyes of the snowy owl - they kindly acknowledge the wishes of children. Whether shooting or falling or hanging suspended up far, far above us in a sky of dark velvet, they are effortless and unknowable, belonging to the beautiful realm of grand mystery. But theirs is a circumspect beauty; they do not impose themselves where man has declared them irrelevant, rarely competing with the false glow of his cities. I found this out for myself one cold, still night on a hillside in England.

Having flown all the long night before, locked inside the musty air of a plane, we were bone tired, with muddled brains and eyes that were stinging from the lack of sleep. The bed we were snuggled inside ranked at the tiptop on our list of pure comfort - a fat, old four-poster, draped to perfection, it was a sublime confection of linen, feathers and down and we were sleeping the deep sleep of the grateful.
But, the moon woke me up.
Draping his light across my face like a grin, he obviously had a sight his wished to share, so insistent was he that I rise to greet him. How could I possibly refuse? Sliding out from my cocoon, padding across the patterned floor, I climbed up in the old window seat, wrenched open the casement window, and popped my sleepy head out into the chilly night air. In doing so, I entered a fairy-land I had supposed existed only within books.
Stars. Upon stars. Upon stars.
The midnight blue sky was totally covered in stars, as if the snowflakes had decided to defy the age old commandments of gravity itself and had defiantly blanketed the firmament. I held my breath, wondering if this indeed was but a dream. My soul, I could see the Milky Way! Crawling back inside momentarily, I whispered to The Songwriter to join me at the window, but he understandably muttered something about being more comfortable than he had ever been in his entire life and slipped back inside the soft arms of sleep. But, I remained at the window for ages and my imagination continues to happily feast upon that magical image, drawing the most delicious nourishment from the sight. I suppose it will do so forever.

It is a thing that my friends in the country know well, but I realized that night just but a taste of what man has obscured with his cities. As I sit in my garden and gaze up at the dark autumn sky, I now know what remains hidden, what wonder lies out there just beyond the artificial light of man.
It makes me smile.

Saturday, October 24, 2009


Edward refuses to wear a costume on Halloween. He has witnessed, what he feels to be, the appalling menagerie that prances down his street once a year on the last night of October - that traveling band of his own kind, canines of every shape and stripe, dressed in the most ridiculous getups he could ever imagine. A spaniel Darth Vader, a beagle Harry Potter, a poodle masquerading as pink fairy princess. What could their people be thinking? He sees them, he shakes his furry head, he sighs. His dignity is so manifest I would never dream of asking him to participate and really, I think I understand his feelings. No doubt his thoughts are akin to my own when I happen to spy some poor chap dressed as the Statue of Liberty in front of a tax office in April. Human stature slips a rung.

Costumes are tricky. If you have ever found yourself clad an ensemble that caused you to feel dreadfully out of place - a walking oxymoron of sorts - then you will know what I mean. I well remember the one time I was seduced by a jacket in the Anthropologie store. I generally shop there for unusual bits of kitchenware, perhaps a bar of soap that smells like mimosa, or a candlestick the colour of dawn. But I give the clothes a wide berth, knowing they are meant for others. So perhaps I had a fever that day, or maybe my inner compass momentarily slid from its moorings, but I spotted a colourfully embroidered jacket and I was intrigued. I decided to try it on. Once in the dressing room I held the garment out in front of me trying to decipher exactly who it reminded me of. (I now think it was Heidi, but that name didn’t come to me then. It should have.) I slipped on the jacket with my back to the mirror, turning around to assess my reflection. I stood there, shocked into silence. And then I began to laugh. Long and hard. The kind of laughter that can make your eyes water. Imagine if you will, spotting Jackie Onassis in a drill team uniform, or perhaps The Queen in a pair of skinny jeans. I looked that silly, in an article of clothing so unlike myself I seemed to be in costume.

So yes, I know how Edward feels, and once again, he shall not be participating in the Halloween festivities like some of his counterparts, no matter how cute I happen to think they are. He will however, be assisting me with my duties at the front door - handing out candy and homemade cupcakes, making everyone welcome - tasks much more suited to both his noble temperament and exalted station.
I applaud him for remaining true blue to his well-honed sense of self.

Painting above by Thierry Poncelet

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Sincerely, L. Cohen

Stars waltz beneath my feet and twinkle in an enchanted sky as I sit inside the Moorish cathedral of song. Owl-feather clouds float lazily above. With my hand to my heart I listen as the fedora clad prophet tosses peerless gemstones out into the crowd, lyrical words that brush past our faces like angel wings, words at once enigmatic and revelatory, blessed with a wizardry that can bare the innermost workings of the soul. With a kindly air, he gazes out over the sea of faces gathered at his feet, as if bemused at the power of his own thoughts. We are entranced. And when the warm spotlight hits him - hat cocked to one side, time weathered and wise - as he stands alone on the wooden stage of history beneath that enchanted sky, we feel the recipients of a rare and most wondrous gift.
His like shall not pass this way again.

Ring the bells that still can ring.
Forget your perfect offering.
There is a crack, a crack in everything.
That’s how the light gets in.”

Leonard Cohen is currently on tour after a long absence.
If he visits your town, take it from me, he is not to be missed.
This was the third time I have seen him. He does not disappoint.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009


Her image cannot be captured on the glossy surface of a photograph. It will only appear as a pale, shifting shadow and within the blink of an eye, all the blacks and blue greys simply slide off the paper and float away on the air. Some intrepid souls have enjoyed a modicum of success with a sketch, hiding within dark thickets of pine with their thumbs pricking, charcoal poised over tablet, squinting in the mist, waiting....waiting..... but the majority only find themselves so stunned at her sighting that they are unable to breathe, let alone to attempt a rendering of her countenance upon paper. Abhorring crowds, she will only appear to the solitary witness, therefore making the paltry accounts of her presence unsupported and suspect, and altering that witness till the end of his days. Mercurial and wayward, she is thought to show herself only in the last two weeks of October, sailing along through a chilled moonlit night, but as mentioned, few have owned the certain type of bravery required to wait all alone for her appearance as she soars past, high above, on the mane of the wind.
The sound of her laughter, high-pitched and hair-raising, has been said to raise from the dead those bent on mischief and mayhem in the cities of men, and her visage, admittedly extreme, has long been thought malevolent, but who can say for certain. Her antipathy for canines is well documented, but she does seem to be charmed by the felines amongst us, making them comfortable in her uncharted stone castle, hidden deep inside the thunderclouds.
The time is nigh for her sightings to occur.
Watch for her if you must, but far better I think, to sit by the fire and read of her exploits, words written by others no longer able to write, their thoughts forever doomed to wander one lone memory of a cold autumn night.

Saturday, October 17, 2009


It is difficult to imagine a more sublime collection of hours than the twenty-four that constitute a Saturday in autumn. I wait for them all week, all year - and they never disappoint.
Those maple-syrup mornings, when we throw open the windows to a crisp and cheerful greeting from the wind. Those pumpkin-orange afternoons spent planting red chrysanthemums and purple cabbages, pink pansies and lemon thyme, while the dogs chase each other through the garden, surprised once again by October. Those warm and cozy nights when the only place on earth I want to be is in my kitchen, stirring a cauldron of homemade soup, peeking in on an oven full of rising bread, with Edward and Apple dozing on the floor.

On these delicious Saturday evenings I am always joined by the sounds of A Prairie Home Companion on National Public Radio. A long time staple in our house,
Prairie Home Companion is a wonderfully entertaining two hour variety show created and hosted by writer, Garrison Keillor. The show is funny and smart, with marvelous stories and eclectic music - everything from Jean Redpath to Randy Newman, Emmylou Harris to Yo-Yo Ma. We love it. I am convinced if Edward met Mr. Keillor, he would know him instantly, so well acquainted is he with the man’s voice.

The Songwriter and I were fortunate to talk with Mr. Keillor ourselves the other evening after he spoke at a local college here in town. A charming man, affable and witty, with just a soupcon of crankiness - just as I knew he would be. I was especially struck by the words he spoke on the subject of gratitude. In response to a question from the audience about God, he replied that the only way he knew to live, and the only way he knew to relate to God, was in gratitude. I sighed a happy sigh of recognition, for I so agree. Indeed, I have long felt that if we spent our hours feeling thankful for the gifts we’ve been given, gifts that are never more evident than in the month of October, what contentment we would find.
Glowing stars in a velvet sky.... a blue-green Cinderella pumpkin resting solemnly under the leaves of a foxglove.... a perfect Honeycrisp apple.... a dog’s cold nose and smiling face.... drifting off to sleep under goose down while an autumn rain peppers the fallen leaves outside.
Once you begin to notice, the simple beauty, the grand mystery, that lies just waiting to be found in the natural world this time of year is endless. So much to be grateful for. I was warmed to the bones to hear Mr. Keillor express the importance of gratitude so clearly. He is a wise man. And his radio show makes the best autumnal Saturday even better.


Welcome Morning

There is joy
in all:
in the hair I brush each morning,
in the Cannon towel, newly washed,
that I rub my body with each morning,
in the chapel of eggs I cook
each morning,
in the outcry from the kettle
that heats my coffee
each morning,
in the spoon and the chair
that cry "hello there, Anne"
each morning,
in the godhead of the table
that I set my silver, plate, cup upon
each morning.

All this is God,
right here in my pea-green house
each morning
and I mean,
though often forget,
to give thanks,
to faint down by the kitchen table
in a prayer of rejoicing
as the holy birds at the kitchen window
peck into their marriage of seeds.

So while I think of it,
let me paint a thank-you on my palm
for this God, this laughter of the morning,
lest it go unspoken.

The Joy that isn't shared, I've heard,
dies young.

~ Anne Sexton ~

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Window Shopping

A most unwelcome fact came crashing into my consciousness on a sunny afternoon last week. Engrossed in my twice yearly chore of packing away my summer garments and replacing them with winter ones, I was happily rediscovering pieces I had forgotten over the past six months and modeling them all for Edward, who seemed to be having a grand old time in his role as audience. All of a sudden, somewhere between a black cashmere sweater and a green tartan jacket, it hit me. I had enough. There was not one single article of clothing I needed. I was completely, totally, without question, sartorially well-suited for any endeavour. From a luncheon with a bearded duke in a ivy- covered gazebo, to an afternoon spent mucking out a stable. A trip to the zoo in the rain or an cold afternoon walk to the library. A matinee, a dinner date, a business meeting or a carnival. Christmas shopping in London, a snowy wedding in Maine, a hike in Glencoe in the most frigid of weather.
I was well prepared for anything.
Now, this thought certainly should have pleased me no end. But to be painfully honest, I was just a bit disappointed. After all, shopping for winter clothes and all their associated accoutrements
is one of the more enjoyable of shopping excursions for me. But, like so many thinking people in this particular season, I am attempting to follow the time-honoured philosophy of “make do and mend”, so welcoming more garments into my already crowded closet is not high on my list of priorities. I shall be window shopping instead.

But.... if I
were to be on the hunt for new clothes just now, here is a bit of what catches my eye.....

I would love to step out in some of the beautiful choices offered up by Sonia Rykiel for fall....

And I adore this particular
shade of red at Ferragamo....

Or, perhaps these delicious outfits in winter white
by Ralph Lauren.....

.... this coat by Alexander McQueen would have to come home with me...
And this Prada boot would be a must....
Ah, well.
I must confess that I did succumb to this one lone pair of shoes.
I know. It was a moment of weakness.
But in my defense, they were on sale!

Saturday, October 10, 2009

The Help

Growing up the South is not for the faint of heart. An enigmatic place at the best of times, it is paradoxical to its core. Finding your way through the varied switchbacks and roundabouts than make up the overgrown maze of its personality can be a bewildering experience, and one that often takes a lifetime, at least. Just when you think you have it solidly in your sights, it slips around a corner leaving only the faint fragrance of a fading magnolia hanging in the muggy air. At the very moment you feel confident with its definition, it can, without warning, fashion itself into a creature of myth, sending you back to huddle over your history books and crystal balls, once again in search of the truth about this place you call home. It is a land where heart-stopping beauty and heart-rending ugliness flourish in tandem - a land of kindness and hate, of ignorance and wit, of integrity, blindness, and pride.

Here in the South we often feel we are the only ones remotely qualified to comment on our strange and haunted part of the planet. Be it on film, stage or between the covers of a book, we can spot a fake Southern accent in an flash, finding it rather more humorous than offensive. For how can those who were not raised with this mystery ever hope to interpret it with an authentic voice? Indeed, those who have gotten it right, who have held the bright prism up high, reflecting the myriad of colours - all the primaries and secondaries, the darks, the lights, the shaded greys - that paint the true picture of the South, well, those few were mostly born here. They know of what they speak. Harper Lee nailed it to the wall with To Kill A Mockingbird, and there have been others. Faulkner, Capote, Welty, O’Connor, Clyde Edgerton, Pat Conroy, all writers who knew their homeland well and managed to share some of her secrets with the outside world.

I have recently finished reading a brand-new book that I am so pleased to add to my shelf of Southern writers. This author has accomplished the task of rolling back the stones and illuminating the hidden South most admirably. The author is Kathryn Stockett, and the book is entitled, The Help. Mississippi born and raised, Ms. Stockett has indeed written what she knows and her truth shines with a glowing light on every page of this marvelous first novel. Literate and heart-felt, it is warm and funny, painful and tragic, a story in which wisdom burns in the midst of ignorance, courage walks hand in hand with fear.
Much like the South itself.

We have come so far here in this part of the country, with miles, no doubt, to go. The shame of our past can never be erased, or even understood, but we cannot move forward if that past goes unacknowledged. The Help reminds us not only of where we have been and how far we have come, but also how very much we all share, how much we are alike. It is an amazing achievement, populated with unforgettable characters, and it was a pure pleasure to read.

Painting above: The Magnolia Flower by Martin Johnson Heade

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

The Light in the Window

There is a lamp in my window that is kept on most of the time. A wonderful antique that I found one dreary afternoon in one of those eccentric old shops that decorators just seem to always know about; tucked away on a crooked street and crammed cheek to jowl with treasure. Drawn in a straight line to this lamp like the proverbial moth to flame, I fell immediately, completely, in love. Unfortunately, not only was it wearing the dreaded “Hold” tag around its exquisite marble base, but the name upon that tag belonged to of one of the most famous decorators in the city. But no matter. It could have been Aladdin’s own, for I was undaunted - and did I mention I was in love? - so I squared my shoulders and approached the proprietor flashing was I sincerely hoped was a smile of convincing charm. Shifting his weight from one wingtip-clad foot to the other, rubbing his forehead with the palm of his hand, the poor man was the picture of discomfort.
But, as I said at the beginning....there is a lamp in my window.

Whenever I return home, from long journey or mere errand, pulling up my drive, I see it standing sentry, its lovely golden glow washing out over the little fir trees in the windowbox - a silent greeting of the warmest kind.
It plays an important role in the stage I endeavour to set each time I leave my house. In preparation for a comforting welcome home, the beds are always made, the dishes put away, rugs are vacuumed, soft music left playing. When the Songwriter returns from a trip out of town, there is usually something delicious sitting atop the kitchen counter, candles are burning and that marvelous lamp is always aglow.

Home provides us with such comfort, be it cottage or castle. It is our sanctuary - our cozy nest in winter, our cool oasis from the heat of the summer. Like a beloved member of the family, it keeps our secrets close, knows our sorrows, is witness to our joys. We care for it and it, in turn, cares for us. Like that light in the window, it welcomes us back each time we leave.
But of course, the most extravagant welcome always comes from Edward!

Friday, October 2, 2009


Ever so carefully, he works his paw in around the edge of the old wooden door and, ever so slowly, pulls it open. With a long, low creak, it moves aside to reveal the midnight landscape. The big white dog peers out with no small amount of trepidation. He sniffs the air, looks up to see an ebony shadow pass over the low-hanging moon. The owls are out tonight. He listens. Yes, he hears them now, calling to each other out there in the mist in that ethereal language he cannot understand, ancient words that make him shiver. They are celebrating tonight, he knows, for this is the dawn of their favourite month.
For in just a few moments it will be October.
The big dog has heard the stories. Of ghosts that drift through the woods, barely seen - of witches on broomsticks in a sky with no stars. He has heard of the voices that ride on the gust of a wind, conveying their warnings with a shriek or a sigh. Of spectres that wait behind oak trees in shadow, singing strange songs in a minor key, reaching out bony fingers to touch his fur as he passes by.
Vigorously, he shakes his head to clear his thoughts, white fur dancing in the moonlit night. He should not let his mind run away with him. After all, he thinks, he has never actually seen a ghost, and October is really quite nice in his house.
There are always delicious smells that come from the kitchen, he loves to nap there when the lady is cooking. The windows are always open, letting in lots of cool fresh air...perfect for his naps. There are fires in the fireplace at night and he just loves fires in the fireplace; he can nap on the lady’s feet as she knits. There is always music playing, always laughter, always long afternoon walks in the brisk windy weather followed by extra long afternoon naps in his favourite red chair. Always hugs. And more naps. Yes it’s true, he loves October.
There is nothing whatsoever to fear.
He cocks his head. Was that the owl again?
In a flash, the big white dog disappears back inside.